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Related to Synonymy: antonymy



a binary relation between two equivalent but not identical expressions. Equivalence is understood as correlation either with the same denotation (fact, object, or the like) or with the same sense (linguistic meaning). In the first case, exten-sional synonymy is being considered, for example, “A. S. Pushkin = the author of Eugene Onegin” or “7 + 1 = 23.” In the second case, intensional synonymy is being considered, for example, “huge = enormous” or “A · B = A ∧ B,” in prepositional calculus.

Synonymy is one of the most fundamental concepts in linguistics, logic, logical semantics, and semiotics. Linguistics studies mainly intensional synonymy. The expressions A and B are called synonymous (that is, there is synonymy between A and B) if their signifiers are not the same, that is, if Φ(A) ≠ Φ(B), but their significata are the same, that is, S (A) = S (B). Synonyms constitute a special case of synonymous expressions. One also often speaks of synonymy in cases where the corresponding significata are sufficiently close; however, such cases involve the concept of quasi synonymy, to use more precise terminology. Linguistics distinguishes morphological synonymy (as demonstrated by the Russian agentive affixes -tel’ and -I’shchik in spasatel’, “rescue worker,” and nyrial’shchik, “diver”), lexical synonymy (as demonstrated in the lexemes gelikopter and vertolet, “helicopter”), and syntactic synonymy (that is, the synonymy of the syntactic constructions krasivee Mashi and krasivee, chem Masha, “prettier than Masha”).

Traditional linguistics primarily studied lexical synonymy and lexical synonyms; modern linguistics directs more attention to the synonymy of entire utterances—sentences or even larger fragments of a text. It is the synonymy of utterances that forms the basis for theoretical investigations of semantics in natural languages, where the sense of an utterance is treated as an invariant of synonymous transformations of the utterance, and “synonymous transformation” is understood as the transition from utterance A to synonymous utterance B. It is clear that synonymy is a relation of equivalence on the set of utterances.

Synonymy is usually considered in connection with the concepts of homonymy and polysemy [Φ(A) = Φ(B) · Φ(A) ≠ S (B)]. It is imperative to emphasize that synonymy, on the one hand, and homonymy or polysemy, on the other hand, are essentially nonsymmetrical. Homonymy and polysemy are characteristic of smaller linguistic units (morphs, lexemes, and, more rarely, syntactic constructions) but less likely in full texts. Synonymy, on the contrary, is typical of larger sections of texts; a rather complex sentence of two dozen words may have hundreds of thousands of synonymous paraphrases. Synonymy is also found among smaller units.

Synonymy is also characteristic of the semiformalized languages of scientific theories. In particular, any explicit definition establishes synonymy, whether extensional, intensional, or both, between the definiendum and the definiens. In the formalized languages used to write formal deductive theories (calculi), intensional synonymy is possible but not mandatory. Extensional synonymy occurs in all formalized languages for expressions having at least one nontrivial relation of equivalence or equality (that is, in languages that have as truths or theorems not only expressions of the type A ~ A or A = A but also of the type A ~ B or A = B, where A and B are graphically different). Typical examples of such a type are the algebraic equation (a + b)(a - b) = a2 - b2 and the equivalence of the calculus of predicates ⌉∀ xA (x)~ ∃xA (x)(that is, the equivalence of the assertions that there exists objects that do not have a certain quality and that not all objects have this quality). Analogously, quasi synonymy with contracted or expanded meaning is an order relation on the set of words or expressions.


Church, A. Vvedenie v matematicheskuiu logiku, vol. 1. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from English.)
Mel’chuk, I. A. Opyt teorii lingvisticheskikh modelei “Smysl—Tekst.” Moscow, 1974.
Apresian, lu. D. Leksicheskaia semantika: Sinonimicheskie sredstva iazyka. Moscow, 1974.
Shreider, Iu. A. Logika znakovykhsistem. Moscow, 1974.
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